IT IS FINISHED – Post Camino reflections from a Benedictine monastary on a Spanish island off the coast of Western Sahara, Africa.
On November 30th, 1966, a young teenager gave birth to a child behind a shroud of secrecy and shame. Back in those days, many young girls were “sent away” to have their babies and then forced to give them up for adoption. I owe that young girl my life – twice. Because the family that picked me up after my month long “staycation” at the hospital, not only welcomed me into their family, but gave me an incredible legacy as well.
WE ARE MARSHALL! (Great movie BTW.)
My life as a Marshall has been blessed so much, that 50 years later I just finished two months of walking from St. Jean Pied du Port in France, all the way across Northern Spain on one of the oldest pilgrimages in the world – The Camino de Santiago de Compostela. What a privilege to have followed the steps of millions before me. The hardest part by far though, was not speaking to so many who shared so much with me.
I ended up walking a bit more than the nearly 800 KM’s from France to Santiago and kept walking until I reached a small fishing village called Muxia on Spain’s “Coast Of Death”. (Aptly named because of how many shipwrecks there’ve been along that stretch of European coastline.)
Then, I headed south to Finisterre, or as the Romans called it – The End Of The Earth! (Because they ran out of land chasing the sun.) All tolled, including a few detours – both accidental and on purpose – I’ve walked over 1000 KM’s.
On November 30th, I turned 50 years old AND I reached the O KM marker of The Camino. WOOHOO!
That day might have just been the best day of the entire trip. It’s hard to say at this point, really. Although, the sense of accomplishment that comes with walking such a great distance is pretty exhilarating. And finishing on the first day of my 50’s was is yet another accomplishment checked off the old bucket list.
Apparently, I was pretty excited about turning 50 because I woke up about 3:30 AM completely wired! So I repacked my backpack for the gazillionth time, grabbed my flashlight and started walking the last few KM’s toward the lighthouse on the point of Cape Finisterre. Certainly the shortest distance I had walked in a day on The Camino. Along The Way, I veered off the path (as I had so often done during the previous two months – A.D.D. pilgrims see more and do more!) and climbed to the top of the highest point on the headland overlooking the lighthouse. There, I setup my iPhone to capture the sunrise and then setup a little spot out of the wind to sit and think about where I was – geographically, spiritually and mentally.
It’s weird celebrating 50 by yourself. But to be honest, if anyone else had been there with me, I’m certain that the impact of this day would not have been as profound. All along The Way, loneliness has been been my “frenemy.”
That morning, I watched the fishing vessels head out to sea and I observed what I could easily say was THE most brilliant sunrise I had seen in my life. (You will have two watch the video above to see what I mean!) Keep in mind, that being up and out of the albergues/hostels before sunrise almost everyday, I witnessed countless jaw-dropping sunrises. But this one – WOW! There were just enough clouds for the sun to use as it’s own personal cinematic filtration and distillation device. As a matter of fact, I was so overwhelmed by the culmination of the astonishing celestial light show that I was witnessing with a new awakening to the reality that I WAS 50, that I literally jumped up out of my wind sheltered perch and celebrated with my arms raised like a raving Evangelical, happy-clappy, tambourine banging, flag waving, palm tanning, Pentecostal Christian. (Watch the video already!) Fortunately, the only thing that witnessed this awkward display of elation was the intermittent beacon of warnings from the lighthouse. This particular morning, the passing ships were warned of more than just the treacherous coast. 🙂
After an hour of soaking in the euphoria of that indescribable morning, I finally made my way back down the headland toward my final destination – the 0 KM Camino marker. Even as I write this, I can close my eyes and remember the pure elation of reaching “The End” after walking for so long.
Then, I walked around the lighthouse and began scrambling down the cliff, as far as I could physically make it without becoming a news headline in the local paper. “PILGRIM PLUMMETS ALONG WITH POST TRUMP ELECTION STOCKS” Eventually, finding a relatively flat rock perched above the crashing waves below me, I took off my backpack, sat down and began to weep. Waves of emotion kept wreaking healing havoc on my soul.
It’s tradition to burn something at the end of The Camino – clothes, boots, backpacks, personal reflections and notes they made along The Way. So, as I did at the highest point of The Camino, I also did at the lowest point of The Camino. I burned some Scottish tobacco in my Irish briar pipe and just took time to soak it all in.
At the very beginning of The Camino, I sat across from a young girl with a backpack, on the train to St Jean Pied du Port. I figured she was a fellow pilgrim but never saw her again after we got off the train. Then, as I was crossing over The Pyrenees Mountains, I noticed a small shepherd’s hut made of stone. Making my way towards it in the foggy mountain mist, I passed by several horses and cattle, the latter of which had bells around their necks. (I guess their like Fog-Lights?) Poking my head into the cobbled shelter, after my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I noticed there was already someone sitting on the dirt inside. A young female voice said hello and invited me in out of the drizzling rain.
We “talked” for quite a while. She discovered that I was a silent pilgrim from Canada. I discovered that she was an introverted pilgrim from Lithuania. We both discovered that we shared the same birthday! Then, at the end of The Camino, we discovered that we were both in Finisterre on our birthday! So we met up and had a fantastic time “talking” about our experiences over the last couple of months. Turned out I wasn’t alone on my birthday after all. It was sad to say goodbye to my birthday buddy that afternoon, but saying goodbye to so many pilgrims along The Way was just another crucial ingredient for purging the soul.
As the sunset on what felt like the first day of the rest of my life, I stripped down into my Adam & Eve-ning wear and ran into the ocean waves. And no, as cold as the water was, I still didn’t make a sound! (Due to technical difficulties, video not available 🙂
What a fantastic way to celebrate a milestone birthday. And yes, later that night I had my first drink during The Way. Except, even though I was assured that the wine I bought was one of Spain’s best, it tasted like crap. The name should have been my first clue!
So – I have officially finished walking. My feet are thanking me but my soul still wakes up each morning wondering where the day will take us.
Hopping on a bus to go to my next destination was quite a surreal experience. I’d never really understood just how fast we move in this world of ours until I tried to catch a glimpse of at least one of the yellow arrows or Camino markers that had guided my Way for so many days. But I was travelling far too fast to see any signs.
After spending a few days being a tourist in a city further up the coast called A Coruna and being shown some pretty incredible places by my ever so gracious B&B hosts…
I then took a train back to Santiago and was met by some new friends who run a pilgrim drop in centre. A safe place for pilgrims to hang out, debrief, do laundry and download post-Camino called “Pilgrim House Santiago.” After a short visit, they took me to the airport where I caught a flight to a Spanish island off the coast of the Western Sahara. There, I was met at the airport by a pilgrim I had met just days before finishing The Way, who happened to live on the island – right near the airport! LOL. He dropped me off at a little motel where he had already booked a room for me. The next morning, he and his brother picked me up and took me to the monastery I found as a perfect place to STOP!
Set up in the volcanic hills, overlooking the ocean in a variety of directions, a Benedictine community of monks (with the long brown robes just like you see in the movies) spend their days doing God knows what. (Get it? God KNOWS what? Holy hilariousness Batman!) What a perfect location for me to stop, drop and write. No internet. (Had to walk 40-minutes to find wifi in the closest village to post this) No phone. No TV. No music. (Except the odd singing/chanting by the monks reverberating through the halls) No traffic. No noise pollution. No nose pollution. No ear pollution, eye pollution or mind pollution. No distractions whatsoever. Just a small bed, a small table, a sink and a window to look out and marvel at The Creator’s handiwork. In a pamphlet left by my bed it says in Spanish, that this place is for those wishing to “find peace and hear God in a world that feels the suffocation of world enclosed by the visible.” For me, it’s a perfect prison of peace.
My three months of silence continues and I will speak my first words since September 25th, on Christmas.
In the meantime – I write.